The Cognitive Side of Creativity

03 Feb 2015 7:00 AM | Anonymous

Author: Frederick "Ken: Sexe

A recent article adding to the many about the brilliance of Steve Jobs noted that creativity requires several things lacking in some industries. Creativity, this article reminds us, requires diverse experience and a curiosity to explore new things coupled with an ability to synthesize new ideas. Why is experience and curiosity so important in creativity? And, more importantly, why do most organizations find it hard to foster these abilities?

Imagine a barren wasteland devoid of any vegetation. Over time rain falls upon this landscape creating rivers and valleys. Over time this rain continues to fall creating areas with valleys deeper than other areas. This image is similar to how Edward deBono visualized how the mind works. The rain in this example is stimulus applied to a landscape representing the patterns of thought an individual has. One’s experiences continues to create a landscape in which stimulus prefers deeper patterns than others.

These patterns of thought have advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage is that we are able to recall complex patterns from memory very quickly. These patterns unfortunately can work to our disadvantage by biasing us into certain patterns of thought over others. Individuals with a diverse set of experiences have in essence more patterns that are shallower than those of an individual with a limited set of experiences and much deeper patterns of thought. These patterns are also asymmetrical in nature; a good example of this is saying your ABC’s forwards and backwards. It is much easier to say your ABC’s going forward than backward as these actions actually use two different patterns rather than the same pattern forwards and backwards.

Creativity comes when an individual is able to move from one pattern of thought to another. This results in a dominant pattern benefiting from the thinking that created another pattern. Steve Jobs benefited from his ability to apply a dominant pattern of thinking to patterns he had created with other experiences he had. Curiosity and synthesis, the other two factors Steve Jobs noted was important in creativity, encourages an individual to explore different patterns of thinking and applying these patterns to other dominant patterns to create new ideas.

Organizations can inadvertently limit their ability to develop creativity in several ways. One critical factor occurs in the hiring process with HR and hiring managers focusing solely on requirements found in the job description. Many organizations compound this problem by not providing training on how to interview candidates for their level of potential creativity among other things. Another critical factor is policies that discourage risk taking such as goals and financial controls that discourage collaboration and risk taking across functions that could provide new ideas spawning creative new ideas. Organizations within a particular industry also tend to hire within the industry thereby limiting the availability of individuals from outside their industry that can provide creative new insights.

There are obviously more factors to creativity and subsequent innovation than the ones included in this blog. There are also those within ASEM much more knowledgeable in creativity and innovation theory than I am. I sincerely hope that this blogs spurs some thinking that could be of value and introduce new ideas to our fellow ASEM members.
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Frederick (Ken) Sexe is a lifelong learner currently wrapping up his PhD in Engineering Management and Organizational Psychology at Northcentral University. His hobbies include challenging prevailing patterns of thinking that discourage new ideas while developing new ways to do things. He is currently employed as a Senior Systems Engineer at Raytheon where he is taking a career break from management to pursue his educational goals and focus on his family.

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